GMO Myths and Truths (3rd edition)
By Claire Robinson, Michael Antoniou and John Fagan
Earth Open Source
Over the past few decades, industrial agriculture has taken a number of big hits, but the techno-ag approach continues to chug along. It is not just continuing down the same broken path of dependence on petro-energy, agricultural chemicals and genetically modified (GM) technology, but doubling down, even as larger and larger segments of the public begin to question the safety and necessity of growing food via constant war with nature. The remaining bastions of support—government, universities and the like—continue to toe the party line, largely because of the hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, along with the positions of prestige and power that they occupy and share.
In GMO Myths and Truths (now in its third edition), the authors hope to equip average citizens with sufficient understanding and information to take a persuasive stand against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the lies that continue to prop them up in the public square. And lies they are—over the past few decades, numerous investigative reporters have shown that biotech and industrial ag companies engage in all sorts of nefarious and duplicitous behavior, from courting and buying off bloggers and other writers, to openly influencing and controlling major government agencies and institutions, to buying science and scientists and spending millions to discredit anyone daring enough to speak out against them.
The lies are multifaceted and manyfold: “GMOs reduce pesticide use”; “GMOs increase yields and are necessary to feed the world”; “GMOs are safe and studies affirm their safety”; “GMOs are no different than many other approaches to plant breeding”; and so on. As the Portland Gazette stated back in 1820, “For falsehood will fly from Maine to Georgia while truth is pulling her boots on.” Fortunately, Robinson and coauthors work through these myths— section by section and chapter by chapter—providing a wealth of primary sources, along with excellent research and analysis of the various pro-GMO claims. Using research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and even the industry’s own slanted and biased work, they show that reality is far different from the fairy tales told about GM technology. The book is heavily footnoted—some chapters have almost two hundred citations—so that anyone wanting to see whether the authors are playing fair with their claims and the supporting research can easily find their sources.
One of the most fascinating sections of the book discusses the impact of GM technologies on plant safety and allergenicity. Although many may think that GM tech is a tightly controlled, targeted process, the reality is that “the genetic changes introduced into various crops are neither predictable nor easily tracked.” (Or, as the Jurassic Park movies put it, “Life finds a way.”) Unfortunately, this means that the impact of these changes on the safety of GM crops is hard to study and understand. So instead of actual safety studies and assays, we get rubber stamps and regulatory negligence, which allow novel and unknown proteins and other substances into the food supply. Only after the clearest and most egregious examples of damage has biotech stepped back—as when animals have suffered clear and massive harm that can’t be easily ignored or explained away. In general, however, most of these incidents never make it to the public’s eyes and ears.
GM technology is primarily a way to create plants that can tolerate pesticides—especially glyphosate (with more and worse already in use or on the way)—but glyphosate and other pesticides persist far longer than manufacturers claim. As the authors explain, studies show that glyphosate “is taken up readily by all tissues of the body. Second, 99 percent of the glyphosate that is taken up is excreted within seven days, with the remaining 1 percent being mostly concentrated in the bones.” You can see why choosing good quality bones for making broth and stock is of the utmost importance!
The industry makes it very, very difficult for researchers to study GM crops. The authors note that “researchers are often denied access to [GM] seeds,” and “even if permission to carry out research is given, GM companies typically retain the right to block publication.” They also quote an editorial in Scientific American that reported, “Only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering.”
GMO Myths and Truths reveals the close ties and funding that drive so much of the pro-GM research and publicity and undermine independent studies and research that question GM safety and success. At the same time, the book points out that most places where GM research takes place are pro-GM bastions: research colleges and universities that receive industry and government funding. Imagine Coca-Cola and other soft drink and junk food companies funding dieticians (okay, they already do…) and imagine how that may skew their research conclusions and recommendations. So it is with biotech—the vast majority of researchers depend on industry or government money (and other incentives) for their livelihoods and career advancement.
GMO Myths and Truths is a large and comprehensive book. You will find information on the latest GM technologies—CRISPR and similar gene editing tools. Whether you want an overview or just want to better understand a particular issue or topic related to GMOs, this book will serve you well. I wish I had had a copy many years ago, before my GMO debate! Two thumbs up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2018